• Learning

Creating High Performing Teams

A conversation with Goizueta Business School’s Professor J. B. Kurish

Monday 25 September 2017

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“You think about high performance teams and you think about numbers and you think about strategy, and sometimes you forget there is a human element – that’s the thing that drives it” says Todd Weiden, an EVP at SunTrust Bank, and participant in one of Emory Executive Education’s custom programs, where the focus was on converting high performance individuals into high performing teams.

Professor J. B. Kurish, Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education at Goizueta Business School – Emory University, sees that this human element is central to great leadership and is something that is central to their custom programs. He also is clear on how central the human relationships between the school and their clients are for successful programs to be delivered over the long-term.

Drawing on his previous experience as an investment banker, Kurish recalls that long-term partnerships are the key to good business, and he advocates “taking advantage of when markets are not in your favour, so that you already have the relationships in place when the market does turn.” This long-term approach of nurturing client relationships and really understanding the client’s issues and challenges is key to the Emory Executive Education’s custom programming approach.

Since Kurish took over as head of the Executive Education division at the Goizueta Business School, he has been keen to expand their geographic footprint, and has overseen new relationships being built in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. This has been done both through creating alliances with local institutions in those regions, and also through taking existing North American clients into these new markets, and equally bringing their leaders from those areas to join programs in Atlanta.

Equally he has expanded the ‘intellectual footprint’ with a broadening of the programs offered, and drawing on the expertise and depth of knowledge that the wider Emory University faculty can bring to custom executive education programs for their clients. “With an increased intellectual footprint – we can cover more topics that are vitally important for senior leaders” says Kurish, highlighting that Emory University has world-leading expertise in healthcare. With renowned schools of medicine, nursing, and public health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention located just off campus, Emory Executive Education has access to an extraordinary nexus of knowledge about healthcare. When combined with Emory Executive Education’s strength in organizational strategy and leadership they are able to deliver custom programs that are founded on deep knowledge of real-world challenges and new solutions in these areas. Having access to these real-world applications and dovetailing them into the curriculum, makes the learning much more tangible and impactful, and allows the participants to gain enduring insight from the applied theories.

One of the major challenges facing corporations today is understanding how to handle data analysis effectively. Emory has a special expertise in delivering instruction on this, having just launched its MSBA, or Master of Science in Business Analytics. Kurish, himself a respected finance professor, sees that the challenge of the deluge of data that organizations now have available to them is an increasing one, and they have brought the content from the MSBA into open and custom programs in recent months. At Emory, the Executive Education team spend a lot of time with custom clients working through the data and identifying what is relevant and what is not. Kurish asks “how do we stop ourselves from drowning in all the information that is out there?” I think we need to slow ourselves down and think more broadly about the questions we need to ask. In this day and age, with all the tools that are available, and all the data that is available, it is so easy to drive to solutions. But I think we spend a lot of time driving to the wrong destinations. So what we are finding with our custom clients is that they are looking to us to help them think about how to sort out the relevant information.”

“And this is where I think we do excellent work in talking with executives and assessing what they need… and they appreciate it, and say ‘wow, we knew there was something but we really didn’t have it defined very well’ and they are open to us pushing back on them and saying ‘here’s what we perceive you really need when we dig a little deeper. This allows us to build a better program with the client in mind. We very much stress the importance of doing joint work with a client.”

Kurish’s conversation loops back time and again to the importance of relationships, the connections that grow between participants in programs and that endure afterwards; the trust fostered between faculty and participants; and the vitally strong relationship between program provider and client – all of which are needed to create impactful program results. He is clear that Emory’s relatively small size, compared to some of their competitors in this top field of providers, allows these relationships to be nurtured more successfully. “We really view that we are a family and an intimate community of scholars and leadership professionals. We consistently get evaluated as being excellent at that. We think the small size really helps us do a better job. We're great on the tough analytics - you need to have the technical skills, however those are necessary but not sufficient conditions for you to be successful as a leader. You need to really know how to deal with people, small teams, big teams, and organizations. Personal relationships count in the end.”

Clients return to Emory Executive Education time and again to continue our strategic partnership, requesting repeat programs, new initiatives, and other forms of continued engagement.

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